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The Ukrainian crisis will dominate the Versailles summit of European leaders

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Versailles (France) (AFP) – EU leaders will scramble on Thursday to find ways to urgently deal with the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine that has imperiled the bloc’s economy and revealed the urgent need for more defense. strong.

The Versailles Palace meeting was expected to be the highlight of France’s six-month EU presidency, but President Emmanuel Macron will instead lead a crisis summit to respond to Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s abrupt disruption of decades of stability in Europe.

“Russia’s war of aggression constitutes a tectonic shift in European history,” said a draft final statement from the two-day meeting.

Leaders will understand “how the EU can assume its responsibilities in this new reality, protecting our citizens, our values, our democracies and our European model”.

The 27 Heads of State and Government are meeting as fighting raged for a fifteenth day in Ukraine, with more than two million refugees fleeing mainly to Poland but also to countries in Europe.

The heartbreaking dispute has seen an outpouring of support in the EU for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and leaders needed to seriously consider the leader’s call to quickly rejoin the EU and escape the clutches of Russia.

“Our first priority is to send a political message to Ukraine that it belongs to the European family,” said an official from the French presidency.

“The biggest problem”

But diplomats said the main topic at Versailles was to urgently explore ways to strengthen Europe’s autonomy in a markedly more dangerous world, particularly when it comes to energy.

“I think energy is the biggest issue on the minds of leaders right now,” said a source familiar with preparations for the summit.

The energy price shock caused by Ukraine’s invasion has endangered an EU economy emerging from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic and fueled heated discussions about how to protect consumers.

Western allies have rolled out waves of anti-Russian sanctions whose ripple effects have exposed Europe’s dangerous dependence on Moscow for gas and oil, a reality the meeting will seek to address.

Europe’s dependence on Russian energy has even caused the first crack in the West’s unified response to Putin’s aggression, with the EU avoiding an oil import ban this week. Russian implemented by the United States and Great Britain.

The EU imports about 40% of its natural gas from Russia along with Germany, Europe’s largest economy, particularly dependent on energy flow, along with Italy and several central European countries.

About a quarter of EU oil imports also come from Russia.

According to the meeting’s final statement, the 27 leaders will cautiously agree to “phase out” the bloc’s dependence on Russian gas, oil and coal.

“Resolutely invest”

EU leaders will also try to make progress on ways in which Europe can strengthen its sovereignty in highly sensitive sectors, including semiconductors, food production and most notably defence.

Collective security in the European Union is mainly handled by the US-led NATO alliance, but France, the EU’s biggest military power, would like the bloc to play a bigger role.

Since Russia’s belligerence against its pro-EU neighbor, bloc members have approved a total of half a billion euros in defense aid to Ukraine.

Berlin radically broke with a long-standing doctrine when it announced that it would inject 100 billion euros into national defense.

Faced with the challenges, “we must resolutely invest more and better in defense capabilities and innovative technologies”, the leaders were to say.